Wheel of Reason Activity: Analyze the Logic of History of the Great American Fortunes
History of the Great American Fortunes
Background Information: In 1909, Gustavus Myers wrote a three-volume history of the great American fortunes. At the time Myers was attempting to understand and then explain how the wealthiest people in the country obtained their wealth. In his book, he focuses neither on extraordinary ability or hard work on the part of these people, nor does he directly connect this vast wealth to greed or lack of ethics. Rather he contends that "the great fortunes are the natural, logical outcome of a system."...[a system producing] "the utter despoilment of the many for the benefit of a few." The result is a "natural" economic and human result. As he put it, "...our plutocrats rank as nothing more or less than so many unavoidable creations of a set of processes which must imperatively produce a certain set of results." The following excerpt is from the first chapter of his book, History of the Great American Fortunes:

The noted private fortunes of settlement and colonial times were derived from the ownership of land and the gains of trading. ...Through-out the colonies were scattered lords of the soil who had vast territorial domains over which they exercised an arbitrary and, in some portions
of the colonies, a feudal sway... Nearly all the colonies were settled by chartered companies, organized for purely commercial purposes and the success of which largely depended upon the emigration which they were able to promote.

These corporations were vested with enormous powers and privileges which, in effect, constituted them as sovereign rulers...

As the demands of commerce had to be sustained at any price, a system was at once put into operation of gathering in as many of the poorer English class as could be impressed upon some pretext, and shipping them over to be held as bonded laborers. Penniless and lowly Englishmen, arrested and convicted for any one of the multitude of offenses then provided for severely in law, were transported as criminals or sold into the colonies as slaves for a term of years. The English courts were busy grinding out human material for the Virginia Plantation... No voice was raised in protest (pp. 11-12).
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